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The Republicans’ speaker fight reflects a post-policy party

It’s as if Republican lawmakers heard the accusations about the GOP becoming a post-policy party, and they decided to offer a case study proving the point.


Two weeks after the 2022 midterm elections, Republican Rep. Ralph Norman, a House Freedom Caucus member, announced that he would oppose GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become House speaker. The South Carolinian soon after positioned himself as one of the five core “Never Kevin” members, steadfast in their opposition to the GOP leader.

Yesterday, as McCarthy failed to gain any new support from his own members, Norman shed new light on his expectations. A Vox report explained:

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) told reporters that he needed the California Republican to display sufficient fiscal conservatism. “Is he willing to shut the government down rather than raise the debt ceiling? That’s a non-negotiable item.”

On the surface, the obvious problem is that the far-right congressman is eager to create a debt-ceiling crisis, and he expects McCarthy to commit to joining him in the spectacularly dangerous endeavor.

But just below the surface, there was a less obvious problem: The debt ceiling has nothing to do with government shutdowns. The latter relates to funding the operations of the federal government; the former relates to the nation’s borrowing authority and ability to avoid defaulting on our obligations.

Or put another way, Norman’s question was, as a substantive matter, effectively gibberish. He can ask McCarthy to shut down the government, or he can ask McCarthy to push the nation into default, but to tie the two together simply doesn’t make sense.

All of which leads to a related question: Shouldn’t Norman know that?

The South Carolina Republican has been on Capitol Hill for nearly six years, and he’s served on the House Budget Committee, which deals directly with issues like these. What’s more, Norman has helped create a political crisis of sorts, rejecting his own party’s nominee for speaker.

It’s against this backdrop that the GOP lawmaker has settled on “a non-negotiable item” — which he apparently hasn’t taken the time to fully understand.

Norman’s confusion, while unfortunate, is part of a broader problem that’s played out this week for all the world to see. Tom Nichols wrote in The Atlantic yesterday:

... McCarthy’s misery is secondary to the real story behind the hijinks of the Republican defectors tormenting their own leader. McCarthy and others have asked what the rebels want — but they do not understand that the rebels have no tangible goals. A significant part of the Republican Party, and especially its base, now lives in a post-policy world. Governing is nothing. The show is everything.

As regular readers know, it’s a thesis near and dear to my heart. In fact, I wrote a book about Republicans abandoning their role as a traditional governing party, and becoming a post-policy party, and it’s reassuring to see so much of the GOP eagerly validating the argument.

The fiasco surrounding McCarthy’s campaign for speaker would be less cringeworthy if Republicans were having a meaningful debate about 21st-century governance. But they’re not. Indeed, by all appearances, we’re watching a fight in which the pugilists hardly even pretend to care about serious policymaking.

Two months of vague complaints about McCarthy — it’s surprisingly difficult to pin right-wing members down on what it is, exactly, they don’t like about the incumbent GOP leader — have given way to competing ransom notes from reactionaries, effectively written in crayon, filled with weird and unserious demands.

It’s as if Republican lawmakers heard the accusations about the GOP becoming a post-policy party, and they decided to offer a case study proving the point.